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SRA approves plans to broaden qualification route beyond training contracts

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) board yesterday (21 May) formally approved an overhaul of its training regulations and continuing professional development (CPD) regime in a step towards opening up the pathways to qualification and ongoing self-assessment.

As part of its ‘Training for Tomorrow’ programme and ‘Red Tape Initiative’, the 15-strong SRA board voted through a series of proposals including doing away with the need for training to completed as part of an SRA-approved training contract.

Under the new regime, which still needs approval from the Legal Services Board (LSB) before its implementation on 1 July, requirements for the length and scope of training have been retained, but it no longer needs to be done under the terms of an SRA-specified training contract. The new regulations also bring into force changes to the minimum salary of trainees, which the SRA consulted on and agreed in 2012.

There is no longer a requirement for law students to enrol with the SRA prior to commencing the Legal Practice Course, meaning the £80 fee currently charged will also be dispensed with.

The SRA will, however, retain a check on character and suitability of individuals seeking to qualify as a solicitor at the point of admission and under the new regulations and there is also a requirement to disclose any issues which relate to character and suitability before training commences.

A statement from the SRA said: ‘The changes do not alter the current qualification pathway to admission as a solicitor, but they do introduce a more proportionate approach to the regulation of pre-admission education and training by taking into account the regulation of higher education by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, as well as developments in employment law.’

Julie Brannan, director of education and training, added: We have taken the decision to remove complex and bureaucratic arrangements, which do not assure quality or promote standards. The changes will not alter the substance of our qualification requirements, but they will result in regulations which are more streamlined and which will enable us to focus on the essentials of our education and training framework.’

Meanwhile, the SRA board also yesterday rubber stamped the long-forecast scrapping of the CPD regime, under which lawyers admitted in England & Wales complete 16 hours of training a year.

The board voted to end the compulsory requirement, with the onus now on law firms and solicitors to ensure they stay on top of legislative changes and procedural developments. While the LSB needs to approve the decision, the new approach expected to be phased in from spring 2015 and fully introduced by November 2016.

The move follows a consultation issued in February this year proposing a new approach to continuing competence and giving three options, including a reduction in the number of CPD hours required.

The SRA opted for ‘option 1’, to scrap CPD points entirely and hand personal competency responsibility to solicitors and law firms, in the belief that it reduces the burden of regulation and focuses on the effectiveness of training.

The SRA currently collects over £500,000 a year from accredited training providers and the change is part of the body’s desire to cut red tape. Crispin Passmore, who switched from the Legal Services Board to become director of policy at the SRA in November, told Legal Business: ‘What they’re paying for is for us to accredit it. That’s unnecessary. It was a unanimous decision by the board. If you’re a lawyer who’s been in same area of law for 10 years and there is little legislative change in your practice, having to take four more hours of training just to tick a box seems absurd.’

The change will also mean that training providers no longer need to be authorised by the SRA, allowing law firms to opt for more specialist training. Philippa Charles, a partner at Stewarts Law, told Legal Business that while ‘CPD points served a purpose – most firms are very good at structuring internal training.’

A competence statement (indicating what a competent solicitor should look like), and supporting guidance, will be published in Spring 2015. Solicitors and law firms will be able to switch to the new regime at this point.

‘If a lawyer is having a busy year, you might end up attending six courses at the end of October simply to get your CPD hours without that time having any resonance to your particular practice area. The reality is, people won’t cease to be informed of current developments because of the ending of that regime,’ Charles said.